Study: Distracted Drivers Very Dangerous

The kind of crash that critically injured supermodel Niki Taylor late last month happens hundreds of times a day as drivers get distracted from the road in front of them, according to a new study.

An estimated 284,000 distracted drivers are involved in serious crashes each year, according a study released today by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center.

"We found that 15 percent of drivers in the study were not paying attention and just over half of these [8.3 percent] were distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle," said Jane Stutts, author of the study.

Taylor suffered serious injuries when the driver of a car she was riding in tried to retrieve a cell phone, and rammed into a utility pole.

Age and Sex Play a Role

However, the study found that cell phones were one of the most minor distractions drivers face. Only 1.5 percent of drivers in the study who got into serious accidents were distracted by their cell phones.

By far, the leading distraction was something outside the vehicle — 29.4 percent — followed by adjusting a radio or CD player, at 11.4 percent.

Other distractions included talking with other occupants, accounting for 10.9 percent; adjusting vehicle or climate controls causing 2.8 percent; eating or drinking causing 1.7 percent, and smoking blamed for 0.9 percent.

Stutts said that drivers of different age groups tended to be distracted by different things.

Drivers under 20 were more likely to be distracted by tuning the radio or changing CDs, while those from ages 20 to 29 appeared to be more distracted by other passengers, she said.

Those over age 65 were more likely to be distracted by objects or events outside the vehicle, according to the study.

The study also noted that sex was an issue among distracted drivers. A majority of distracted drivers was male, the study said — in part because as a group men drive more than women and are therefore more likely to be involved in serious crashes.

Extensive Data Collection

Researchers used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Crashworthiness Data System (CDS) for the study, which was funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The CDS examines a sample of approximately 5,000 crashes a year in which at least one vehicle was damaged enough to require towing.

Federal investigators collect detailed information about each crash from an examination of the vehicle and crash scene and interviews with drivers and witnesses.

The UNC center's study used data from 1995 through 1999 and included 32,303 vehicles.

On Wednesday, Stutts is expected to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in Washington.

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